Volunteers place flags on graves to recognize veterans
If people were to look across area cemeteries today, they couldn’t help but notice a flurry of red, white and blue at gravesites.
Volunteers began putting flags at local cemeteries this week to honor veterans for Memorial Day, which will be Monday.
Sponsored by Johnson-Overturf Funeral Homes, the project started five years ago.
“We wanted to do something to make an insightful impact while honoring our fallen warriors,” owner Steve Overturf said. “We didn’t want to interfere with all the other Memorial Day services, parades and activities.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no local services, parades or other activities are planned this year, with the exception of Masters Funeral Home, which will host a short service 2 p.m. Sunday at Palatka Memorial Gardens, 4070 Silver Lake Drive.
The Rev. Shaun Thomas, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Palatka, will be the speaker. Social distancing will be observed. The public is invited.
While other counties and states this year have banned the annual tradition of putting flags on veterans’ graves because of the pandemic, Putnam County residents decided to continue it with social distancing in mind.
American Legion Bert Hodge Post 45 Commander Ken Moore, who helped place flags Thursday, said he felt honored.
“Without their sacrifices, we may not have the freedoms we enjoy today,” he said. “We may not even have the American Legion post. Our way of life may be totally different.”
According to Ricky Bybee, organizer of the event and part of the staff at Johnson-Overturf, 2,500 flags were available this year to place in five cemeteries. That number is up from the first year when 500 flags were available.
The cemeteries receiving flags included Eden in Crescent City; Pineview in Interlachen; and Westview, Oak Hill East and West, and Peniel in Palatka.
“We have upwards of 50 folks each year help us place the flags,” Bybee said. “If we have any left over flags, we let veterans organizations use them to place in other cemeteries.”
Bybee prays before flags are placed on veterans’ graves.
“It’s a prayer of gratitude that we live and thrive in the United States of America,” he said. “It’s a prayer of thanks for those who have gone before us and fought and won our nation’s battles. It’s a psalm of gratitude for the protection of God’s gracious right hand and, of course, a prayer of solace to the families of the fallen.”
Overturf is thankful the community supports the effort in placing flags on graves.
That support comes from the American Legion, St. Johns River Valley Chapter of the Retired Military Officers Association of America, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, Palatka Police Department, Kiwanis Club of Palatka, local high schools, Putnam County Fire and EMS, 91.3 Hope FM Christian radio station and many residents.
“Our purpose is to commemorate all men and women who died in military service for the United States of America,” Overturf said. “Obviously, there is no way to ascertain who died during military service. We place flags on all veterans’ graves honoring their sacrifice.”
Flags will be collected next week after Memorial Day and stored until next year. Any damaged flags will be given to the American Legion for proper disposal. Volunteers are also needed to collect the flags. For details, call 538–6376.
Overturf said his funeral home often serves families who have no idea what their loved one did during their service years.
“Many of them endured some of the harshest and violent times of their lives in the name of freedom,” he said. “We want to honor their sacrifice and ensure all our veterans are remembered.”
Overturf said it’s also about sharing the legacy to future generations.
“We want to share it so our youth remember and are grateful for the very blanket of security our veterans have provided,” he said.